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The horrific sexual abuse on the part of Catholic priests has been called a scandal by the media, but this is not an accurate term to describe what has happened. Thousands of children were abused, molested, and raped by priests, and each time a higher-up in the Church found out, this person chose not to expel the criminal from the church but to redistrict him to a place where the crimes continued. This is not gossip. This is not a scandal. This is a disgusting violation of young peoples’ rights

Members of the Church have a right to safety and should trust their priests. What has happened violates the principles on which the church stands. I am furious and distraught that some people think they are above the law, and think that because they are “men of God,” they can commit crimes and assist others in committing crimes.

The media has focused primarily on how the church will attempt to recover from this scandal, if attendance will drop at Catholic parishes, and on the tentative efforts of a few bishops to prevent these crimes from happening again. What they are not doing is holding the Catholic Church responsible for being an institution that permits rapists and pedophiles to work closely with children.

Let me say up front that I am not against organized religion or the Catholic Church. I have respect for those of faith and I know the church gives meaning and happiness to countless people. Elements of the Church are forces for good in the world, running community service projects, helping the poor, providing support for families and the homeless, and acting as a vibrant community for many people. Recently, Nick Kristof wrote about how the Catholic Church has not always been a strict, hierarchical, male-dominated organization, and how today the Church does some amazing things:

The first-century church was inclusive and democratic, even including a proto-feminist wing and texts. The Gospel of Philip, a Gnostic text from the third century, declares of Mary Magdalene: “She is the one the Savior loved more than all the disciples.” Likewise, the Gospel of Mary (from the early second century) suggests that Jesus entrusted Mary Magdalene to instruct the disciples on his religious teachings.

This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.

So I don’t think the Catholic Church as a whole is evil, but its current systematic practice of ignoring abuses must end. Turning a blind eye to youth molestation is inexcusable and horrific.

The New York Times recently reported:

“A psychiatrist who treated a priest decades ago in a German archdiocese run by the future pope said he had repeatedly warned that the priest, who was accused of sexually abusing boys, should never work with children again. The priest was re-assigned to parish work almost immediately after his therapy began, and one of Benedict’s deputies at the time has taken responsibility for that decision. Less than five years later, the priest was accused of molesting other boys, and in 1986 was convicted of sexual abuse.”

Such negligence has occurred again and again, and it comes down to the simple fact that the leaders of the Church think they are above the law.Defenders of Pope Benedict have said that while he made mistakes, the pope is the backbone of the Church and cannot be disgraced. But this idea that the pope cannot be held responsible is ridiculous: it’s like saying the President of the United States can lie, cheat, and steal – and just because he is the head of the U.S. government he automatically gets a get-out-of-jail-free card. I don’t think so.

The Church allowed these abuses to occur, and they need to make sweeping changes to make sure they never happen again. If a pedophile is caught raping a boy, he should be put in jail and not reassigned to work in a different parish. The Catholic Church should not be an institution that allows rape and helps rapists escape the law.

The Pope met with victims of abuse last week, offering condolences to and praying with them.Afterwards, the Vatican issued a statement saying that the Pope had told the survivors of abuse that the church would investigate the crimes and bring to justice those who are responsible. The statement also said that the Church would “implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future.”While this is a step in the right direction, we need to realize that words are just words.Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger ran the Church’s office in Germany that was charged with dealing with priests’ rape and abuse – and he dealt with these problems by simply redistricting offending priests.Given this stained past, does Pope Benedict sincerely want to make substantive changes in order to make sure abuse never happens again, or is he just saying what he needs to say to help the Church’s public image?

The Church has long promised to take action on this gigantic problem, but as long as there is no public accountability and as long as we allow the Church to use its own slow-moving and closed-door justice mechanisms (which aren’t open to public scrutiny and auditing), nothing will change.

I am not writing this to call on the Pope to resign – because I know that this will never happen and that there is a 0.1% chance he will ever be held accountable in public court.That said, priests who are guilty of sexual abuse should go to jail, and the highers-up responsible for redistricting cover-ups should also be prosecuted.

At the end, I am writing to suggest something bigger: a grassroots solution. Every devout Catholic should not be afraid of calling out abuses that they know of.It is the responsibility of community members to support the rights of young people and have zero tolerance for sexual abuse.The general public needs to continue to pressure the Church to not just talk but take serious action.Among other things, I think the issue of a male-only celibate priesthood should be revisited — originally this policy was put in place so that priests could not pass on land to their children (to make sure priests were not corrupt)!

The Catholic Church should overwhelmingly be a force for good in the world, not an institution that hides rape and destroys young people’s lives.It is up to everyone — the press, the public, Church officials, and people of faith — to make sure that this change happens.

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